Learning To Fly: December Junior Camp at the US Olympic Training Center, 1985

0
710

An excerpt from the forthcoming book “Saddling Up to Ride in Cowboy Country … in Spandex!”

By Dave Campbell — The letter from the US Olympic Committee arrived in mid-November of 1985 and I was thrilled to be one of 120 riders accepted. “Room and Board is provided by the US Olympic Committee. Your only expense is travel to and from Colorado Springs.”

Bikes were expected to arrive “clean and in perfect working order” but tools, glue, grease, and work stands will be provided by “National Team Mechanics! Help and advice is only a ‘Thank you’ away!” The camp would be held December 13-30 and so I would miss a week of school, with the bulk of the camp happening over Christmas break.

I was 17 years old; a junior in high school and I had been racing for five years. I lived in Lander, Wyoming, a little town at the foot of the Wind River Mountains. The letter explained what the camp would entail and what we should bring. A training program for the weeks leading up to camp was provided, as was an address to give friends and family for mail. I had never ridden through the winter, choosing instead to swim during Wyoming’s cold, dark, and snowy months. In addition to winter riding clothes, we also needed clothes for gymnasium work. The camp would include road riding, cyclocross, running, weight training, and basketball.

Dave Campbell on the trainer, 1985. Photo courtesy Dave Campbell

I was asked to bring a cyclocross bike as well as my road bike. I knew vaguely of cyclocross from my Winning magazines. ‘Cross was a winter combination of running and riding practiced on a variety of surfaces, but not only did I not have a bike, I had never done it! I bought THE ONLY bike frame (which was slightly too big) available in my town at Freewheel Sports and set about building one up with older, leftover parts I fortunately had on hand.

I sought advice Mike Stieb, a rider from Casper who had been to Colorado Springs the previous year. The culture of cycling at that time, particularly in Wyoming, was one of actively sharing information and helping each other. Everyone in our little cycling world was trying to elevate not only their personal performances, but the sport in general and since information was scarce, it was shared readily. He told me what kind of tires to use for ‘cross and about the daily training sessions and weather. Road rides peaked at two and a half hours, and you had to stay in the small chainring and spin. The hardest workouts were weight training and cyclocross; he recommended I practice a bit as riding around in the snow and mud with a hundred other kids was tricky!

As the departure date approached, I started getting the kind of attention you can only get in a small town. I was pulled out of class one day and interviewed for the school newspaper. The local paper ran the headline “Campbell to train for the Olympics”, which of course wasn’t true! The article itself, however, was accurate about what the camp was … a development camp for promising young riders from around the country. Physiological testing would choose 40 to 50 riders to return for a more intensive April camp. At the monthly High School Letterman’s Club meeting, I was presented with a check for $100 to help with my expenses at the camp!

At this point, I was very much a part-time cyclist. I was committed to school as well as the swim team. I was unsure how to integrate the two sports. The winter roads around Lander were unrideable anyway due to snow and extreme cold, so I had never trained as a year-round cyclist.

Although I had participated in a few high-level races, I was realistically limited to mainly Wyoming’s minimal but growing summer calendar (with occasional forays to Utah, Montana, and/or Colorado). Getting invited back for April seemed like a stretch and between school and parents, I didn’t even know if I could pull it off if I did!

Nonetheless, I wanted to learn as much as possible and make the most of this opportunity. I hacked around in the snow on my new ‘cross bike, rode my indoor trainer, and lifted weights at the pool in preparation. The idea of living in the dorms with a bunch of bike racers from all over the country and being a full-time athlete, if only for a few weeks, was thrilling! On my last day at school prior to departure, Gene Patch, our short and fiery little principal stopped me in the hall. “Campbell, you going down to Colorado tomorrow for that Olympic Camp?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Well, you give ‘em hell down there, son!” He enthusiastically instructed me as he patted me on the back. It was probably the most “Cowboy Country” moment in my entire cycling career!

The drive down was cold and windy with blowing snow. The weather made me a little anxious about bundling up and riding every day. Less than a year ago, the US cycling program had received some unwanted national attention for a “blood boosting” scandal at the 1984 Olympics, that while not technically against the rules, was clearly immoral and cheating. A lot like doping really. In a very prescient comment, my dad told me to “watch out for drugs down there, you don’t want to be involved in any of that”.

Dave at the Colorado Springs Velodrome. Photo courtesy Dave Campbell

Upon arrival, I was issued a meal pass/ID card and given a room assignment. I ran into Darin Dewsnup from Utah, a friend I had made the year before at a race outside Salt Lake City. My roommates were two guys from San Antonio, Texas. Bryce was mainly a track racer and had brought a fixed gear bike. Andy was tall, skinny, friendly, and easy-going and it was immediately clear that we were going to be friends.

The wind and snow we had driven through moved into Colorado Springs, making road riding impossible on the first day, so instead we went to the gym. We were broken into twenty-man groups each with older, permanent resident (PR) riders assigned to lead us. In the gym, Darrol Batke and Kit Kyle led us through tumbling drills on mats so we “knew how to crash”. We did some circuit weight training after a little 5 on 5 basketball where the only rules seemed to be “run, run, jump, jump!”

We weighed ourselves each morning and took our pulse for 15 seconds upon awaking, then again another 15 seconds after standing. These were recorded daily and posted outside our dorm rooms on a chart for the coaching staff. A gap between the two pulse rates exceeding 5 was seen as a sign of fatigue and cause for a rest day. We jogged down to breakfast, stopping enroute to stretch and do “deep breathing exercises” where we got all the “stale air” out of our lungs from sleeping. We actually pushed and squeezed on our bellies!

Our rides were always done after lunch, in the warmest part of the day. After our day in the gym, the sun came back out and the snow melted, and we rode for two hours. Most days involved both gym work and riding. Helmets were optional and most of us wore wool ski hats. My group was assigned Mike McCarthy, a permanent resident from New York, as our ride leader. He was only a year or two older than us but friendly, outgoing, and encouraging … and very savvy on the nuances of cycling. We spun easily on an out and back course in a double paceline.

Most of the evenings after dinner had lectures or presentations and I dutifully took notes on all of them in my little leatherbound journal, a gift from my English teacher Mr. Mork. The first was just a video … of Greg Lemond winning the 1983 Worlds! We were instructed to look at how Greg was racing, his riding style, and his tactics. I had only seen pictures in the magazines and was thrilled to see all the key moments of the historic race!

The next evening Walter Golebiewski talked to us about bike position. My positioning was so random that my reason for the stem I had on my bike was that it was the only stem in my local shop when I built the bike up! The lecture revealed my many shortcomings, and time with the mechanics the next day helped me rectify some of the issues.

By the end of the first week, Dale Stetina (winner of the1983 Coors Classic on the very last day) spoke on tactics and training. It was information that I was starving for! I stayed after to thank him … and get extra tips! I used his “bluff to win primes” strategy quite often in the coming years. As the camp went on, Ed Burke would speak to us on nutrition and physiological testing. Steve Bishop, a national team mechanic spoke on bicycle maintenance and equipment, National Cyclocross team member Casey Kunselman spoke on cyclocross, and Junior National Coach Craig Campbell spoke about keeping a training diary and positioning in the peloton. I really took it all to heart and I knew it would all enable me to get better. In fact, these camps had been making American riders better since 1978 when Greg Lemond was a junior! We were just the latest beneficiaries!

After several cyclocross sessions so guys like me could (kind of) figure it out, we had a training race down in the park. We were informed that a “special guest” might be there watching. As we rode to the park, the riders all guessed that Eddie B., the Olympic Coach, must be the special guest and so everyone fired up to perform.

Daryl Price, from California, was the fastest on the day, and years later would become one of the very few Americans to win a World Cup Mountain bike race. I was left in the dust almost immediately, when someone started directing me on where to ride. I didn’t know the guy and we had pre-ridden the course, so I ignored him. He was trying to warn me of where the snow covered a curb and now revealed a drop off. I promptly crashed, basically right at his feet, understanding now what he was trying to do. I looked up and there was Eddie B! He scolded me with his thick Polish accent, “Silly Junior, you will learn!”

That evening Eddie B. himself gave our lecture! The architect of those nine Olympic Medals! The first point he made spoke right to me: “To be successful, you must be crazy for cycling!” Done! He told us we had to “eat like a pig, work like a bull, and sleep like a baby!”

I diligently took my notes. He detailed Speed, Power, and Endurance as the key components of cycling and how to train all three. One of his key points was understanding the difference between speedwork and intervals and how to incorporate them into your training. His funny bits and detailed training information were balanced by simple and logical tips like “learn something from every race” and “analyze why you win and why you lose races”. We received it like gospel coming down from on high!

The definitive moment of December Junior Camp at the OTC was the progressive ergometer test, by individual appointment. The other guys went to the gym to lift but I went back to my room to prepare for my big test. With my headphones blasting the most inspirational music I had, I bundled up and did a big warm up on my road bike, put my game face on, and then rolled up to the intimidating Physiology lab building.

The “Erg” was a stationary bike that was adjusted to your riding position. There were technicians who pricked your finger at set intervals to take blood and measure lactate. After a thorough warmup, the test began with a “load” of 3 “kiloponds”, whatever that was, for five minutes. Cadence was to be maintained at 90 rpm. Stripped down to just cycling shorts, shoes, and a headband, I was sweating and breathing hard, but it was manageable.

The load was then increased to 4 for the next five minutes and I was working very hard. The next phase of the test was a load of 5 until failure. As soon as they turned it up, it was like stomping on a big gear into a strong headwind … on a climb. It was eyeballs out! I gave everything I had as all the techs screamed and cheered, pounding that monster gear as long as I could. My final time was 11:40, decidedly middle of the pack when results came out. I believe it was the 50th or 60th best time and I wouldn’t be coming back in April. To me that was irrelevant, I came to do my best and to learn. Mission accomplished!

The dorm legend had it that Derin Stockton, a rider from Santa Barbara rooming next door, was so strong they just turned the machine off after 17 minutes! Coach Neil met with all of us one on one after the test to discuss the 1986 race calendar and our results. He was a little stern with me about getting out of Wyoming and doing more of the big races around the country. My parents didn’t want “my world to revolve around bike racing” but I didn’t tell Neil this! One race I was fairly sure I could do was the Iron Horse Classic in Durango, Colorado at the end of May. It went over two 11,000-foot climbs and served as the Junior Worlds Trials Qualifier for the western region of the country.

My parents picked me up on December 31st and I was happy to be back in Cowboy Country in time to go out on New Year’s Eve with my friends! And, of course, to share my tales about life at the USOTC. I would also share them with the Lettermen’s Club. I took photos during the camp and shared a slide show at the next meeting as a thank you for the financial help. I was never sure what the traditional “jocks” thought of cycling, so I was thrilled when one of the stars of the basketball team said “Wow, they were really checking you out!”

I did not make it to Juniors Worlds, but I did race the Iron Horse, finishing 28th. Best yet, I fell even deeper in love with cycling and kept racing until 2016 and I’m still riding to this day!

Post-scripts:

The first National Cycling Director of USA Cycling was Eddie Borysewicz, a Pole who defected after the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Eddie was a multiple national road and track champion in Poland, later becoming a coach when Poland was a world cycling power. He had also served as a machine gunner in the Polish army. Under his guidance, US cyclists won nine medals at the 1984 LA Olympics, including four gold, the first of any kind since 1912.

Some background on the USOTC: President Jimmy Carter signed the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1978, after the US Olympic Committee (OSAA) wrested control of everything Olympic related from the Amateur Athletic Union. The OSAA mandated the creation of National Governing Bodies (like USA Cycling) for each Olympic Sport. Additionally, a permanent Olympic Training Center was to be developed. The Colorado Springs facility, the old Air Force Academy, was the perfect place. “When Eddie learned that the OTC could provide free lodging and food for up to 120 riders (numbers he anticipated for future camps) he jumped on it!” [1]

The first USOC offices (“Olympic House” as it came to be known) had been the office of the commanding air general of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD monitored the skies for intercontinental missile and nuclear warheads. The epicenter for monitoring Cold War activities had now become the center of the American Olympic Movement. [2] Ironically, the first US coach to have an office there had, decades earlier been a Polish machine gunner stationed on a missile base in East Germany!

Eddie used the OTC for his February winter training camp in 1978, becoming the first coach of the first federation to utilize it. Junior riders Greg Lemond, Greg Demgen, Jeff Bradley, and Ron Kiefel attended and later won a bronze medal in the 1978 Junior World Championship Team Time Trial, the first ever World cycling medal for US men. The OTC administrators were delighted, as the training camp and the results justified the OTC’s existence. Upon his retirement from coaching, Eddie B. noted that the enormous progress and international success of American cycling in the 1980s would have been impossible without the meals, lodging, and facilities made available to he and his coaching staff at the USOTC. [3]

Kit Kyle would win a silver medal that fall in World Track Championships in the Tandem Sprint, paired with David Lindsey.

Mike McCarthy would represent the US in the Team Pursuit at both the 1988 and 1996 Olympics. In 1990 he earned a bronze medal in the World Amateur Pursuit Championships and in 1992, he became World Champion in the Professional Pursuit, the first ever by an American.

Doug Smith, another permanent resident who helped with the camp would win the 1986 Amateur National Road Title and become the first cyclist to appear on a “Wheaties” box.

USA Cycling revived the camps a few years back and charged campers $10,000 to attend. Of course, this also included USA cycling logo gear. Huh.

1. Borysewicz, Eddie and Riddle, Patty. (2020) Eddie’s Side of the Story: The Life and Times of Eddie B. Independently Published.

2. Badger, Emily, “United States of Innovation: How Colorado Springs Became the Heart of the U.S. Olympic Movement”, Fast Company, June 2012.

3. Borysewicz, et al.

Dave Campbell was born and raised in Lander, Wyoming and now resides in Bend, Oregon. A retired High School Science and Health teacher, Dave won four Wyoming state cycling championships before moving to Oregon to attend the U of O in Eugene. While there, Dave was a collegiate All American and went on to win six Oregon State Cycling Championships as well as a Masters National Road Title on the Tandem. He started writing Trivia in 1992 for Oregon Cycling News and continued the column with the Northwest Bicycle Paper. Dave also writes cycling history at “Clips_and_Straps” on Instagram and announces at cycling events throughout Oregon

(Visited 52 times, 1 visits today)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here